Eighty Words, Four Myths

Myth-vendor Peter Roberts’ recent anti-pricing petition on the UK government web site reads:

"The idea of tracking [1] every vehicle at all times is sinister and wrong. Road pricing is already here [2] with the high level of taxation on fuel. The more you travel - the more tax you pay. It will be an unfair tax on those who live apart from families and poorer people [3] who will not be able to afford the high monthly costs. Please Mr Blair - forget about road pricing and concentrate on improving our roads to reduce congestion [4]."

That’s four myths in only eighty words (one of which my canon, to the right, ignored because everyone else except Mr. Roberts already knows it):

  1. These systems (yes, Virginia, GPS satellites) when applied to a tolling application do not need to “track” motorists. Nor would it be effective to do so. The record of a motorist’s use of the road will at worst be private and can even be totally anonymous (I’ll go deep on this in a later blog).
    [By the way, if a city or country did track every vehicle, that would be “sinister and wrong”.]
  2. It true, Mr. Roberts, road pricing IS already here, but is it only partly paid by fuel taxes in most jurisdictions and the rest is paid by other taxes, such as property taxes, in the case of Toronto. But your real error here is that we are really talking about congestion pricing not about road pricing, and too few – including your Prime Minister’s ghostwriter – draw the distinction. Road pricing is for funding roads, congestion pricing is for reducing peak hour traffic. There is NO congestion pricing in your fuel taxes regardless of how high they might be, since a fuel tax does not distinguish when and where you drive.
  3. Congestion pricing is NOT unfair to poor people. Poorer people (Roberts’ words) largely take transit to work (except for the very poorest, few of whom even have the luxury of a job in the city). Congestion pricing, when executed properly, as it was in three out of three instances (London, Stockholm, Singapore) and as it had better be done properly here in my beloved Toronto, invests the money into transit which is GOOD for poor people. It is also good for rich people who can now get to work and home on time without polluting the air that the poorer people need to breathe. Hello?
  4. Improving roads does not reduce congestion for any more than a new disk drive stays empty on your computer, or your local farm-land stays free of suburban houses. Worse, if you do improve a road somewhere, it just draws more traffic into the rest of the network. Transport planners have known since the 60s that road-building invites more cars and road repair blocks traffic. All the rest of us non-traffic engineers have pretty well figured this out, too. That is why it is not on my Seven Myths list.

    And you got how many signatures?

Tony Blair’s response missed the first three of these. Is that because his ghost writer didn’t think the audience could understand or because she also did not recognize them?

Until we dispel these myths, we will never address the only real question, which is:

“Do we want to pay for our prosperity by sitting in traffic queues , burning fuel which we pay real dollars for, and being late or away from family, or do we want to pay a variable congestion charge?” …or, heck, take the new and improved transit.

And to say as Mr. Blair does: “we have not made any decision about national road pricing” is an even bigger problem for me.

Of course there are no “immutable decisions” such as a firm start date or a detailed technology selection or exact pricing maps. But we know there is little choice. Sir Rod is only the latest of hundreds who have explained this. So to waffle for the kids sake, especially when you have declared you are not running again, is only to invite more distrust. Would you also say, Mr. Blair, that you aren’t really sure whether we should quit smoking?

Ken Livingston for PM, I say.

And what would you say, Dear Reader, if the total cost of congestion pricing to you personally amounted to the same amount of money that you spend burning extra gas while creeping along the roadway? That cross over is coming very soon – some think we crossed it. When that becomes so, and since congestion pricing reduces traffic (as has been proven 3 out of 3 times), you could get home sooner AND have cleaner air.

How hard is that?

[Next: more myths. This time from the Prime Minister’s reply.]

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